World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Achille Lauro hijacking

The Achille Lauro ca. 1987

On October 7, 1985, four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) hijacked the Italian MS Achille Lauro liner off the coast of Egypt, as she was sailing from Alexandria to Ashdod, Israel. The hijacking was masterminded by Muhammad Zaidan, leader of the PLF. One 69-year-old Jewish American man in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered by the hijackers and thrown overboard.


  • Background 1
  • Hijacking 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • Hijackers 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External Links 8


Throughout the 1980s, the Israel, across the Lebanese border. In response to one such attack by the PLO's Force 17 on an Israeli yacht, the PLO headquarters in Tunis were bombed by the Israeli Air Force (Operation Wooden Leg) on October 1, 1985. The headquarters were completely destroyed in this attack, and sixty PLO members were killed. The hijacking of Achille Lauro was thought to have been an act of retaliation for the bombing. However, this claim was refuted in 2013 by Reem al-Nimer, widow of the PLF leader Muhammad Zaidan. According to al-Nimer, the hijacking had been planned 11 months in advance, and the hijackers already been on two 'dummy' training runs on Achille Lauro. The plan was to open fire on Israeli soldiers when the ship reached Ashdod – a suicide mission.[1]


On October 7, 1985, four PLF militants hijacked Achille Lauro off Egypt. The hijackers had been surprised by a crew member and acted prematurely. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons.

As many of the hostages were American tourists, U.S. President Ronald Reagan deployed the Navy's SEAL Team Six and Delta Force to stand-by and prepare for a possible rescue attempt to free the vessel from its hijackers.[2]

On October 8, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock at Tartus, the hijackers murdered Leon Klinghoffer, a retired, wheelchair-bound Jewish American businessman, shooting him in the forehead and chest. They then forced the ship's barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. Klinghoffer's wife, Marilyn, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. PLO Foreign Secretary Farouq Qaddumi later denied that the hijackers were responsible for the murder, and suggested that Marilyn had killed her husband for insurance money.[3] Over a decade later, in April 1996, PLF leader Muhammad Zaidan accepted responsibility, and in 1997, the PLO reached a financial settlement with the Klinghoffer family.[4][5][6]

Achille Lauro headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct. They were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner.


The Egyptian airliner carrying the hijackers was intercepted by F-14 Tomcats from the VF-74 "BeDevilers" and the VF-103 "Sluggers" of Carrier Air Wing 17, based on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga,[7] and directed to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella (a NATO air base in Sicily) under the orders of U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger; there, the hijackers were arrested by the Italian Carabinieri[8] after a disagreement between American and Italian authorities.[Note 1] The other passengers on the plane (including the hijackers' leader, Muhammad Zaidan) were allowed to continue on to their destination,[10] despite protests by the United States. Egypt demanded an apology from the U.S. for forcing the airplane off course.


The fate of those convicted of the hijacking is varied:

  • Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi disappeared in 1991 while on parole, but in 1994 was known to Spanish authorities, during the trial of Monzer al-Kassar.[Note 2]|}}
  • Bassam al-Asker was granted parole in 1991. He was thought to have died on February 21, 2004, but according to the Lebanese Daily Star, he had instead fled the country. He spent 14 years in Iraq, training Palestinian militiamen to fight the US army alongside Iraqi rebels, before travelling to the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon, where he resided as of 2007.[12]
  • Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. He served 20 and three more on parole and on July 7, 2008, he was expelled from an illegal immigrant detention center in Rome. He plans to appeal this, arguing that he has nowhere else to go since Lebanon will not allow his return as he was born in a refugee camp and is thus not a Lebanese citizen.
  • Youssef Majed al-Molqi, convicted of killing Leon Klinghoffer, was sentenced to 30 years. He left the Rebibbia prison in Rome on February 16, 1996, on a 12-day furlough and fled to Spain, where he was recaptured and extradited back to Italy. On April 29, 2009, Italian officials released him from prison early, for good behaviour.[13] In June 2009, however, al-Molqui's attorney told the Associated Press that the Italian authorities had placed his client in a holding cell and were about to deport him to Syria.[14]


Following the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the Klinghoffer family founded the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation, in cooperation with the Anti-Defamation League.[5]

The Achille Lauro hijacking has inspired a number of dramatic retellings:


  1. ^ Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi claimed Italian territorial rights over the NATO base. Italian Air Force personnel and Carabinieri lined up facing the United States Navy SEALs which had arrived with two C-141s. Other Carabinieri were sent from Catania to reinforce the Italians. The US eventually allowed the hijackers to be taken into Italian custody, after receiving assurances that the hijackers would be tried for murder.[9]
  2. ^ Although according to most sources this occurred during 1992 while al-Assadi was still in prison, according to Bohn's The Achille Lauro Hijacking,[11] al-Assadi was convinced to testify in the Spanish court against the Syrian billionaire arms dealer el-Kassar, but later recanted and refused to travel to Spain.


  1. ^ Fisk, Robert (5 May 2013). "How Achille Lauro hijackers were seduced by high life". The Independent.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Heymann, Philip B. (2001). Terrorism and America: A Commonsense Strategy for a Democratic Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  9. ^ Snyder, William P.; Brown, James (2004). Defense Policy In The Reagan Administration. DIANE Publishing. p. 141. ISBN 0-7881-4146-5.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Bohn, The Achille Lauro Hijacking, p. 174.
  12. ^ "Achille-Lauro hijacker plays a new game". The Daily Star (Lebanon). May 28, 2007.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^

External Links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.